September 9 -- Galatians 2:11-16
The last time we were together, we heard about the end of Paul's second trip to Jerusalem. He told Peter, James, and John about the work he was doing with Gentiles. Paul was traveling around, telling people outside of Israel the good news that when Jesus died and rose again, they too could come inside of God's family and be made right with God. Peter, James, and John saw that God was at work in Paul, and they agreed that he should continue.
Today, Paul picks up and tells us about a different visit. A little while after Paul left Jerusalem, Peter came to visit him in Antioch. In Antioch, Jewish and Gentile Jesus-followers lived together, ate meals together, and worshipped together. They were like one family, all gathered around one table. But then Peter came to town, and something changed. Should we see together what Paul had to say about that?
Today's reading is Galatians chapter 2 verses 11 through 16.
11 When Peter came to Antioch, I told him to his face that I was against what he was doing. He was clearly wrong. 12 He used to eat with the Gentiles. But certain men came from a group sent by James. When they arrived, Peter began to draw back. He separated himself from the Gentiles. That's because he was afraid of the circumcision group sent by James. 13 Peter's actions were not honest, and other Jews in Antioch joined him. Even Barnabas was led astray.
14 I saw what they were doing. It was not in line with the truth of the good news. So I spoke to Peter in front of them all. "You are a Jew," I said. "But you live like one who is not. So why do you force Gentiles to follow Jewish ways?"
15 We are Jews by birth. We are not sinful Gentiles. 16 Here is what we know. No one is made right with God by obeying the law. It is by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. So we too have put our faith in Jesus Christ. This is so we can be made right with God by the faithfulness of Christ. We are not made right by obeying the law. That's because no one can be made right with God by obeying the law.
Wow. Can you imagine being in Antioch when this happened? Peter was one of the most important people in the early days of the church. He was one of Jesus's best friends: Jesus even gave him the nickname "rock" because he would be like a strong foundation stone for the brand new church. And Paul — who used to hunt down and arrest people who followed Jesus — corrects and even scolds Peter in front of everyone! I wonder what it felt like in the room when Paul stood up to Peter?
Here is what was happening. While Peter was visiting the Christians in Antioch, a group of people came to see him from Jerusalem. And this group of people were Jesus-followers who thought it was still important to keep Moses's laws. One of the ways they did this was by staying away from Gentiles, who didn't follow those laws. They didn't want to keep company with law-breakers, or people who didn't worship God the right way! But then these men arrived in Antioch and what did they see? There were Jewish and Gentile Christians all mixed together, sharing meals like one family, and they did not like it one bit.
We don't know what these people said to Peter. But after they arrived, Peter stopped sharing meals with Gentile Christians. And because he was Peter — because he was an important leader — the other Jewish Christians in Antioch did the same thing. The Jewish Christians began to only gather with each other, and to keep to themselves. Now there were two groups of Jesus-followers in the city, and they were separated from each other. There were two tables — the Jewish table and the Gentile table — and Moses's laws were like a wall keeping them apart.
But Paul says no. What Peter is doing is a lie, and God's good news is the truth. In front of everyone, he tells Peter that he is wrong. It is Jesus's faithfulness and love that make us right with God. Peter trusted in that faithfulness, and so did the Gentile Christians. So they can't be separate from one another! It is Jesus, not the law, who brought them both into God's family, so Peter can't pretend like there are actually two families now.
Paul shares this story in his letter with his friends in Galatia. And they are important words for us, too. There are no laws or special ways that make us right with God, and bring us into God's family. There is only Jesus, and the love that he showed us by dying and rising again. He is faithful to us, and we can trust that he is enough to make us new, and to make us all his people together.
Let's get ready to wonder about God's good words together.
Loving God: make our minds curious, our hearts open, and our bodies at peace. Thank you for inviting us to wonder about your words. Amen.
I wonder why James and the other church leaders from Jerusalem thought that Jewish and Gentile Christians should eat separately? I wonder why they wanted to keep them apart?
Many years ago, Peter had a vision that showed him that Jews and Gentiles could eat together. He also saw that God was working in Paul to teach Gentiles about Jesus. I wonder what changed when the people from James came to town? I wonder why he went along with them?
I wonder what Paul's voice sounded like, when he corrected Peter? I wonder what Peter's face looked like when he heard him? I wonder how Peter felt? This happened in front of the other Christians in Antioch: how might I have felt if I were there?
I wonder why Paul shared this story with his friends in Galatia? I wonder what he wanted them to see? I wonder why the Holy Spirit saved this story for us?
Peter was acting in a way that told a lie about Jesus and what he has done for all people. He was staying away from other people who belonged to Jesus because they were different. And he was acting like they weren't good enough to eat with. I wonder if we ever do the same thing? Are there people who God loves that we are afraid to come close to? That we stay away from, because we think they are dirty or bad? Can I confess that to Jesus right now, and hear his words of truth?
Loving God, thank you for Paul's words to the Galatians, and thank you that somehow by your Spirit, they are also your words to us. Give us the wisdom and understanding that come from your Holy Spirit so that we can know you better. Show us the faithfulness of Jesus, and help us to put our trust and hope in him alone. In his name, Amen.